Updated at 7:42 a.m. on January 25.
Though sparsely attended, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s appearance at the inaugural “Conservative Constitutional Seminar” this evening received generally good bipartisan reviews.
The event was organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., in conjunction with the House Tea Party Caucus, which she started and chairs.
Even one of the four Democrats in attendance, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., called Scalia’s talk on the separation of powers and the Constitution “useful.”
“Everyone was very respectful; we were delighted with his remarks,” said Bachmann, who promised to hold more such events, focusing on the Constitution and featuring scholars and possibly more Supreme Court justices. She said that it would not matter if the justices were regarded as conservative or liberal.
Bachmann declined to talk about other matters, including her plan to give a public response to the State of the Union address Tuesday at the urging of the Tea Party Express. The official GOP response to the president's speech is to be delivered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee.
“I was extended an invitation by the Tea Party Express to speak to their membership. And I never took this as a State of the Union response, necessarily,” said Bachmann. “I am not giving the official Republican response.... I am very excited about Paul Ryan’s response.”
Invitations to today’s meeting with Scalia had been extended by Bachmann to House members on both sides of the aisle. But reporters outside the room may have outnumbered those who gathered inside. Scalia did not talk to reporters after the event.
Still, Republicans and Democrats said it was worthwhile. Some “hot-button” issues were addressed—such as the constitutionality of congressional earmarks—but they declined to report much of what the justice said on that. The health care law, and efforts to repeal it, did not come up, they said.
Scalia, viewed by many as the strongest constitutional “originalist” on the Supreme Court, took the opportunity to urge members to look at the Federalist Papers to determine what the Founding Fathers intended in the document.
“He does not really believe in a ‘living Constitution,’” said Schakowsky.
“If times have changed, the correct approach is to amend the Constitution,” added Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., of what Scalia instructed.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Melvin Watt and Mike McIntyre, both of North Carolina, were the other Democrats who showed up.